Wednesday, June 22, 2005

TECH| Yes, the Intel-Macintosh!

When you think of the Apple Macintosh, the furthest thing from your mind is Intel. After all, it is the marriage of Intel microprocessors and Microsoft operating systems that power the PC market, which has eclipsed the Macintosh over the past couple of decades.

Today, the Macintosh accounts for less than 5 percent of the personal computer world, with even Linux having a bigger share, while Windows-based PCs gobble up around 90 percent of the market.

In fact, for Mac devotees, the words 'Intel' or 'Microsoft' create feelings of rage and criticism. One can only wonder how these devotees must have felt earlier this month when Steve Jobs, the King of the Apple Kingdom, announced his company would be switching Macintosh systems to Intel processors!

To begin with, the announcement spelled the end of a 15 year association between IBM, Apple and Motorola which was known as the 'PowerPC alliance’, by which Motorola designed PowerPC processors that would sit at the heart of Apple computers and some IBM PCs.

The idea was to challenge Intel's supremacy, and create a stronger alternative platform based on the Macintosh Operating System. The result has been, simply, the production of Macs with increasingly more powerful PowerPC processors, but without denting the domination of Intel-Windows PCs.

As Apple's view of the future of computing is one that is platform-independent, meaning that Windows-Linux-Macintosh computers will all be talking to one another and data exchange needs to be flawless, moving to an Intel architecture while still retaining the Mac OS backward compatibility seems like an ambitious, but very promising, goal.

But that's not the only reason. Intel's mobile processors, such as the Pentium M, outperform the PowerPC processors for notebooks in every department; mainly in power conservation and heat dissipation.

Macintosh PowerBook and iBook ranges will benefit from better power management and less over-heating.

The over-heating issue, in particular, looks crucial to Apple's latest miniature designs in the desktop range. The Mac Mini and iMac, both of which have all-in-one designs that are very compact.

But, what about compatibility issues? Typical of the new image of Apple, the company plans ahead impressively, developing and testing ideas or products, then announcing them.

Apparently, Apple has already rewritten its operating systems to run on Intel chips. Every Mac OS X release has an Intel-compatible version, developed alongside the PowerPC versions that are now on the shelves. Apple is also preparing software called Rosetta, which seems like an emulation utility, to run most existing Mac software on Intel-based Macs. Ensuring that developers are not left behind, Apple is providing Macintosh programmers with a development toolkit, called Xcode, to create bilingual, "universal binary" programs that run on either chip without alteration.

It seems like a well thought-out transformation. And one that opens up exciting possibilities for Macintosh owners. Maybe Mac-purists don’t like it now, but if it extends and expands the existence of their beloved Mac, they won't be complaining. They’ll be hailing their saviour, Jobs, again and again.


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